With two significant losses on their defensive line, the Patriots were down to just two healthy tackles, both of them rookies, on the 53-man roster: Joe Vellano and Chris Jones. So, earlier this week, the team brought in veteran Andre Neblett, who's been in the league three seasons. Neblett was with Carolina since 2010, and briefly in Tampa Bay earlier this year before being released.
Now, he's a Patriot, after Vince Wilfork went on season-ending IR with an Achilles injury and veteran Tommy Kelly on the shelf indefinitely with a right knee problem.
Though a bit undersized for his position at 6-0, 310, Neblett believes his style of play can help the Patriots where they need it most right now on defense.
"I'm a fast guy and at the same time a technician," he said Friday, speaking to the media for the first time as a Patriot. "I use my hands well and I'm able to stay low as a short, stocky guy. So I can get under guys and hopefully get back there and penetrate and also hold some gaps... All I know is run to the ball and I'll be all right."
"He was here preseason [with the Buccaneers]. We played against him and it was good," head coach Bill Belichick recalled Friday morning. "Good playing strength. He's played a decent number of plays over the past three years; a couple hundred plays a year type of thing, so he's got some experience."
Neblett's locker is right next to Wilfork's, and although the co-captain isn't able to take the practice field for the time being, he's still doing what he can to help the youngsters like Neblett and practice sqauders Marcus Forston and A.J. Francis prepare for their roles every day.
"He was here, in a couple of meetings, sitting in there giving us advice," Neblett added. "I see we have a lot of young guys on the D-line and it was great for him to come in and help us. He said, 'Things change around here quick, so, stay on top of your game and it will help you stay around. Just come in and work and stay in the playbook.'"
"Being here, right next to him, trying to fill in for him, those are going to be big shoes to fill. I'm going to do my best."
It's been a while since we've heard from linebacker Brandon Spikes (who was reportedly fined nearly $8,000 by the NFL for wearing red cleats against Cincinnati last week).
That may be in part because Spikes hasn't been on the field as much in 2013. He's been healthy, but the Patriots have been fielding a lot more nickel personnel packages, and he's been the odd man out in most of those circumstances, when an extra cornerback is needed.
"Sometimes it is a little frustrating," he admitted Friday, "but, whenever my number is called, I've just got to go in and play at a high level and get the job done, and that's what I try to do every Sunday.
"I always want to be on the field to help the team out, be out there running around with the guys. We put so much in throughout the week, you get one opportunity to come out on Sunday and get it done.
He responded, "I guess, maybe. I really don't know," when asked by a reporter if he feels his role on the team changing.
"I don't really pay attention to stuff I can't control," he added. "I just feel fortunate to be able to play this game. I just want to make the best of it. It's a small margin of time you get to play, so why not go and have fun? That's all I base it on, go have fun and be happy playing the game I love."